By Sam Galski
The Standard-Speaker, © 2004

June 3, 2004

Two years ago this month, Still Creek resident William Hinkle’s life had been turned upside down.

A routine blood test revealed that Hinkle had developed polycythemia vera, a rare bone cancer and acquired bone marrow disorder that causes the overproduction of blood cells.

The disease essentially causes blood to thicken, which if untreated, could form blood clots that trigger strokes or heart attacks.

Hinkle, who had been residing at a home off a stretch of the Ben Titus Road in Still Creek for the past 37 years, said he had not noticed any symptoms associated with the disease.

There was no dizziness, headaches or shortness of breath.

Aside from an itch that he just couldn’t scratch – despite constantly changing brands of soap he would use when bathing – Hinkle said he thought he had a clean bill of health.

Little did he know that itchiness – especially following a warm bath – was one of the primary symptoms.

“Whenever I’d take a shower, I’d itch,” he recalled. “I said to my wife, ‘This soap has got to go.’ Now you find out it’s one of the symptoms.”

His wife, who had also been the subject of blood work, contacted the family doctor for her results. Fortunately, he said, everything came back in check.

Hinkle’s results, however, weren’t as favorable.

Ever since, Hinkle would periodically be “bled,” a process he likened to donating blood.

Whenever his platelets and red and white blood cell counts would increase, Hinkle would have to have some blood removed from his body to prevent it from thickening.

The blood, worthless to others, would be thrown away.

Hinkle has also been taking Hydrea, “a chemo drug,” that helps him cope with the disease.

According to data obtained by Frank S. Waksmunski, Carbon County Groundwater Guardian president, polycythemia vera has a 1 in 200,000 incidence.

Hinkle and two other neighbors living along a 0.4-mile stretch of Ben Titus Road have been diagnosed with the disease.

Neighbors said another woman, reportedly in her 30s, has displayed symptoms but hasn’t been diagnosed.

In light of the developments, Hinkle said he is holding his head high.

“I’m the type of person who says if that’s what it is, that’s what I have,” he said. “I plant a garden and do a lot of things to keep busy. A lot of times when people are diagnosed, they just sit around – and what do they do when they sit around? They think about it. I’m not like that.”

Four houses away, Betty Kester and her husband, Lester, are battling the disease.

Betty Kester said her husband was diagnosed with Polycythemia vera in 2000 while she had been diagnosed in the ensuing year.

Though Hinkle didn’t speculate on what caused the illness, Betty Kester said she initially thought her drinking water had been contaminated.

“I had my water tested twice,” she said. “Wilkes University tested it about a year ago and I got results back from the (state Department of Environmental Protection) this morning. They say it’s all right.”

Her grandson, who is an epidemiologist, advised her to keep abreast of developments in the community and urged her to continuously monitor her health.

Despite her grandson’s advice, Betty Kester said her primary concern is with the children.

“I’m hoping they can help the little children,” she said. “But you know what they say, where there’s life, there is hope.”

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, polycythemia usually develops slowly.

The agencies also said that the disease occurs more frequently in men and rarely in patients younger than 40.

Causes are not known.

Complications stemming from the disease include thrombosis (a cause of stroke and heart attack), peptic ulcer disease, gastric bleeding, leukemia, heart failure and myleofibrosis.

Reduction of high blood viscosity (thickness), chemotherapy and anti-platelet therapy are some common treatments.